Mandii Pope is one of New Zealand’s greatest creative exports: an acclaimed artist with exhibitions across Europe, Dubai and the UK, and with many works in both private and commercial collections across the globe. Her work is often seen all over the UK, be it her emotive spin paintings – or out in public spaces, you will find her book benches, a bus painted like Buckingham Palace, a Darth Vader Gorilla or a dolphin warplane to name but a few. Senior royalty have even added the finishing touches to one of her artworks. An iconic member of the Kiwi community in the UK, Mandii is often seen out and about at London-Kiwi events, and supports the community in a variety of ways. She has now returned to New Zealand for the first time in six years to be part of the Christchurch Stands Tall Giraffe sculpture trail – I grabbed the opportunity to find out more about the art, and about the lady herself…
Tell us where you’re from in NZ, when you came to the UK, and why?
I’m originally from Auckland. I followed love to the UK! Justin Bade came to London to gear up 42 Below. We’d been friends for years; I left my happy life in NZ after a romantic month in Rarotonga for the thrill of “what if”. 11 years later, 42 Below is a great success story, Justin and I remain friends and to this day is the best decision I have ever made in coming to London to chase my dreams.
How was it first settling in to life in the UK – both in a general sense, and in terms of your career?
I came to London on a red carpet. We lived in Knightsbridge, my job was £50K per annum, and we led a glamorous life. We broke up a year later, and the company I worked for went into receivership. I ended up pouring pints in a gay bar in Soho at night for about £5 per hour before tax, and a film set during the day for free. I had nowhere to live, so the pub owners after a week of knowing me offered me their flat in Leytonstone. I averaged an hour’s sleep after I’d finished my night shift and I travelled 90 minutes on the night bus. I’d get home around 4.30 or 5am, and I’d be gone again by 6ish to be on set by 7am. After 4 months I was exhausted. A friend came back from travelling and was my saviour – thanks to her, I ended up settled in both the same flat and job that I’m still in 10 years later. I have two lives: as an artist, and an office job – both complement each other nicely. My office job keeps me safe and the people I work with have been like family to me in the UK. They have supported my full-time art career from day one, and supported me with an art studio to make spin paintings for 4 years – plus a Darth Vader Gorilla and a large corporate commission. I miss NZ, but London is where I need to be art-wise. There are so many opportunities the UK. I’m working to a 10-year plan and opportunities are plentiful after years of hard graft and determination.
What is the inspiration behind your work?
I’m a sponge to my environment. If it’s a public art sculpture, I like to utilise the organic shape of the sculpture and keep to the theme of the brief or project. The cityscapes are places visited. My spin paintings are emotive, fun to create and are the format of my current artworks. I’m very guided by a greater force and my intuition guides me to most of my inspiration. Sometimes I just get an idea and it explodes from there. I have a couple of hundred ideas for my NZ-themed spin paintings; I just need time to paint them all. It was great fun creating a colouring book for Kiwi-run Ziggle-Itwhich has seen me now turning my sculptures into colouring adventures for the kids. Ziggling-it is colouring fun for adults, and I seriously recommend it!
What are some of the career highlights of things you’ve worked on while you’ve been in the UK?
All Wild in Art projects are completely epic… Also a 15ft Big Ben BT Artbox for Childline in 2012, designing the Bagpuss costume for the VLM for Hospices of Hope, painting with royalty a couple of times, working on 60 Minute Makeover, film sets, painting the UK New Zealander of the Year, solo exhibitions in Cork Street and Dubai… They keep coming!
You’ve done a lot of work for Wild in Art. Tell us what they’re about, and what you’ve worked on for them?
Wild in Art are absolutely massive in the UK, and are taking over the world! Their sculptures raise hundreds of thousands – if not millions – for various charities around the globe. They have four or five public art trails in the UK and one on another continent per year. In 2012 it was Lions in South Africa; 2013 Rhinos in Australia – and this year, it’s giraffes in Christchurch, New Zealand! A Wild in Art trail consists of a town, a charity, and anywhere between 20-70 sculptures decorated by local and famous artists which are sponsored by local businesses, and then put on display for the public to enjoy, take photos and create memories… The sculptures are then up for auction, where all proceeds go to charity. Miniature sculptures are created by schools of a similar number. These projects bring enjoyment to entire communities and raise huge amounts for charities who need it. I’ve just completed my 11th public art sculpture – 8 have been for Wild in Art, with more to come in the new year. 2013 was a talking, breathing Darth Vader Gorilla (@DarthGorilla); 2014 has seen three book benches for Books About Town, a WW100 warplane dolphin named @TrevorWarphin for Wild Dolphins in Aberdeen, a Buckingham Palace bus for TFL’s Year of the Bus, and two giraffes for Christchurch Stands Tall: @MoaGiraffe, as well as designing “The Longest Girink in Town” giraffe (painted by Sarah Greig).
Your latest London project is the TFL Year of the Bus sculpture trail. Tell us a little about that?
There are 60 bus sculptures – 40 in London, with 20 to follow in Croydon in late November. The buses are celebrating 125 years of the bus, for Transport for London (TFL) in conjunction with three charities: Transaid, Kids Company, and the London Transport Museum. Mine is Buckingham Palace Bus. You can download an app to find them (search for “Bus Art – Year of the Bus”). Later in the year they will be up for auction, and the money raised will be divided between the three charities.
You’re in NZ at the moment working on Christchurch Stand Tall. What does this mean to you personally, and how did it come about?
I’ve been a big supporter of this project as soon as I heard about it a year ago, regardless of if I became a part of it or not. I believe in the project, the product and the people of Christchurch, and I really hope New Zealand realises how incredibly huge this is to have Wild in Art come to Christchurch. I’m the only Kiwi in the UK to have painted so many sculptures for Wild in Art, so it was super special to receive a phone call from Wild in Art Director Charlie Langhorne, who decided out the goodness of his heart to give me his own Air New Zealand ticket to send me home and be a part of the Christchurch Stands Tall project. It’s been nearly six years since I’ve been home, and it has been so special to be amongst a bunch of super-talented Kiwi artists at Giraffe HQ. One fellow artist – Justine Ottey – even surprised me with aTip Top container full of freshly backed afghans! Made my day! I have two giraffes; one is the famous red-and-blue spotted The Longest Girink in Town which I designed (painted by Sarah Greig and sponsored by Buildtech), and the other is Moa Giraffe (which I designed and painted), sponsored by Dulux New Zealand. Dulux chose my Moa design because of their huge involvement work with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and environmental conservation. Dulux have been great supporters of the project, supplying all paints for 50 schools, as well as the artists in Giraffe HQ. Back in the UK I use nothing but Dulux paints – I don’t like the expensive artist’s paints anymore, so I am a natural advocate for my sponsor. A match made in heaven! The Giraffes have just had a coat of varnish from Urban Hygiene and are looking magnificent! Campbell Live reported that they could sell for NZD $10,000 each. These sculptures have sold for £55,000 and £60,000 GBP each in the UK on some trails, so they have potential to raise so much more.
I understand that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, put the finishing touches on one of your paintings. Tell us about that!
Ceilidh Dunphy from the NZ High Commission recommended me to the New Zealand Women’s Association (NZWA) as a live art artist, to paint a very special painting on Waitangi Day at New Zealand House in the presence of HRH the Duchess of Cornwall. I was chosen as I had painted Buckingham Palace live for King Edward Hospital with the Duke of Kent in previous years. President Jane Thomas and I decided a cityscape of Clarence House (residence of HRH) would be most fitting. I completed the painting with a portrait of a Maori warrior (Bruce Simpson from Ngati Ranana, the London Maori Club) in the foreground with a Queen’s Guard. The Duchess of Cornwall was a fabulous sport when I asked her to paint a few windows. The painting was then up for auction a last month, and all proceeds went to a WW100 charity for NZ soldiers.
What’s next for you?
As soon as I land back in the UK, I have 10 days to paint current 2014 UK New Zealander of the Year, Eric Tracey. I also have an Egg for The Big Egg Hunt, two magnificent Wild in Art Dragon sculptures for Go Go Dragons, plus many more submissions for Wild in Art projects of Buses, Owls and Barons. I still have a 100 or more NZ-themed spin paintings to complete as well. I’m due for another big exhibition, so I’ll make sure that happens next year. The world is my oyster, anything is possible – and I’m up for all of it.
You can find out more about Mandii here.
All photos courtesy of Mandii Pope. Interview by Charlotte Everett; may only be re-used with permission.